Yesterday’s surprise announcement that Steven Spielberg is stepping away from the director’s chair for Indiana Jones 5 was met with shock, disappointment and even anger. While Indiana Jones is equally synonymous with star Harrison Ford and co-creator/producer George Lucas, each film in the series (including the disastrous fourth entry, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) have all carried the vaunted Spielberg touch. The Young Indiana Jones series notwithstanding, the thought of someone else overseeing the adventures of the heroic archeologist just seems … wrong.
And yet, someone is going to do it. As of now, that looks to be James Mangold, fresh off his Oscar-nominated crowd-pleaser Ford v Ferrari. The reaction to this news has been mixed: while Mangold is a well-respected director, with not a small amount of geek cred thanks to his work on The Wolverine and especially Logan, he’s definitely not the first person one thinks of when considering heirs apparent to the Bearded One.
Perhaps that’s a good thing. There are enough film-makers aping Spielberg as is (see: JJ Abrams, Colin Trevorrow, the Duffer brothers). Mangold has developed enough of a personal, if not particularly distinctive, style over the course of his 25-year directing career that his movie probably won’t feel too much like fan fiction.
Yet, there are a number of other directors who seem better suited to take over for Spielberg, and who are definitely more exciting choices. Since Mangold’s still in early talks at the moment, there’s no harm in imagining what some of those hypothetical candidates might bring to the fifth and presumably final – at least until the eventual prequels and reboots – entry of the Indiana Jones saga.
By the time Indiana Jones 5 comes out, it will have been almost 15 years since the release of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but the memory of that film will still be lingering in fans’ minds. Who better then to reassure skeptical audiences than Justin Lin, a man known for course-correcting previously ailing franchises such as The Fast and the Furious and Star Trek? Lin would also wholeheartedly embrace the pulpier aspects of Indiana Jones and could be counted on to deliver something fun and fast-paced.
English director Joe Cornish earned immediate comparisons to Spielberg with his first film, 2011’s sci-fi/action thriller Attack the Block. His follow-up feature eight years later, the young adult fantasy adventure The Kid Who Would Be King, was met with a much cooler reception, although it likewise shared that nostalgic Amblin feel. Cornish has an innate ability to tell adventure stories that feel both old school and modern, and he’d be an ideal – perhaps the ideal – person for Spielberg to pass the torch, or, in this case, the bullwhip to.
Bigelow may seem like a strange choice, since she’d admirably managed to stay away from the franchise machine, but that’s also one of the reasons she’d be a good choice. With all of her sway, she would probably be allowed to do her own thing with the story and you could be sure she wouldn’t be indebted to nostalgia or fan expectations. While these days Bigelow is associated with serious drama thanks to The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and Detroit, she’s still the director of such high-octane pulp fare as Blue Steel, Near Dark and Point Break (plus she has a history with Ford, having directed him in 2002’s K-19: The Widowmaker), and seeing her return to pure action/adventure would be a cause for celebration.
Few directors have been as influential in shaping the modern-day blockbuster, for better or worse, than Gore Verbinski. In fact, of all the blockbusters of the last two decades, the one that feels closest in spirit and tone to the first three Indiana Jones movies, without being overly redolent of them, is Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Verbinski has been something of a professional recluse following the disappointment of his last two outings (Disney’s failed Lone Ranger reboot and the psychological thriller A Cure for Wellness). However, both films have undergone a critical reassessment of late, and Verbinski is overdue for a comeback. Should Mangold ultimately drop out, Verbinski would be a no-brainer to replace him.
So far, all of the directors I have listed are established names, but as has been proven by any number of recent blockbusters – Jurassic World, Wonder Woman, a solid three-quarters of the Marvel movies – up-and-coming directors are perfectly capable of delivering huge hits if given the chance. It’s only a matter of time before Deborah Chow, a television director with credits on shows such as The Man in the High Castle, Jessica Jones, Mr Robot and Better Call Saul, is given a high-profile feature, and it might as well be Indiana Jones 5. Chow just came off her highest-profile gig yet, having directed two of the most popular episodes of The Mandalorian. She had been tasked with directing an Obi-Wan Kenobi series for Disney+, but that project was recently put on hold. Disney clearly has a lot of faith in Chow, so should things not work out with Mangold, and should the Obi-Wan series remain in limbo, don’t be surprised if she ends up on a shortlist of possible replacements.
Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman
It’s not unheard of for directors to start out in animation before moving into live action. The past decade has seen a handful of big names making the jump, such as Pixar staples Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton, as well as the team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. With that in mind, perhaps the trio of Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman might make the jump next. They certainly earned the opportunity following the massive commercial, critical and creative success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which managed to take the most oversaturated franchise of the modern era and not only make it feel fresh, but wholly surprising and essential. I have no doubt they could do the same for the Indyverse.
Lijo Jose Pellissery
While Lijo Jose Pellissery is the least famous name on this list, he’s also my personal pick. The Indian director, known in the Malayalam film industry for his kinetic, gonzo style, cited Spielberg as a major influence on his 2019 film, Jallikattu, about a rampaging bull wreaking havoc on a poor rural village. The influence was not lost on film festival audiences, whose raves invariably compared Jallikattu to Jaws and Jurassic Park (as well as 2001 and Apocalypse Now). The mind boggles at what Pellissery could do with a large budget and studio support. Of course, it’s ridiculous to imagine that Disney would ever hand either over to as wild a director as Pellissery, although I suppose stranger things have happened.
Like the preceding entry, this is a total pipe dream. It’s also probably a terrible idea, given how little Spielberg and Black have in common as film-makers. However, my reasoning is simple: Black has been trying to make a movie about Doc Savage – the brawny, brainy, globetrotting adventurer from the golden age of pulp magazines and a forebear to any number of pop culture heroes, foremost among them Indiana Jones – for years, to no avail. There’s no telling if Black will ever get his dream project off the ground, so he might as well put some of his ideas for it to use in an Indiana Jones movie. It’s not like he’d be totally out of his element – his work on Iron Man 3 (one of the very best Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, haters be damned) proves he can operate within the strictures of the Disney franchise machine. And besides, who wouldn’t want to see an extra-surly Indiana Jones cracking wise alongside some lovably dimwitted new sidekick while celebrating Christmas in some far-flung exotic locale?